A public hearing has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 17 in the District Courtroom to discuss the creation of the Somervell County Hospital District.
A meeting to set the election date for January 24 will be held immediately after the hearing.
The public hearing was announced at the conclusion of Monday’s Commissioner’s meeting. Jerry Lee, a consultant for Luminant asked to speak to the court about the matter.
“I’ve lost more skin on this subject than any other,” Lee said as he approached the court. “We support the hospital and we support the hospital district, but we want a healthy public debate.”
Lee questioned why the petition for the creation of the district allows for a 75-cent tax rate, meaning property owners could pay another 75-cents per $100 in property value. Under statutory law, 75 cents is the maximum amount a hospital district can assess.
Luminant, which represents 84-percent of the counties tax base according to Lee, would have reason to be concerned. Lee said most hospitals operate with a 10-cent or less tax rate and if the 75-cent rate were approved, the district would have a virtual blank check.
“We never dreamt we’d see more than a 7-cent tax,” Lee said. “You don’t go around writing blank checks like that.”
“Tax rates mean a lot only when you know what the tax base is,” Lee said in a follow-up interview.
Over the last three years, Comanche Peak has increased in value, from $1.4 billion to $2.6 billion. Lee said the counties tax base is $3.1 billion.
“I have no reason to believe that the value of the plant will do anything but increase,” Lee told the court.
Gary Marks, CEO of Glen Rose Medical Center (GRMC), spoke to the Reporter on Tuesday and said an emergency hospital board meeting has been called for Thursday night to discuss the petition and the intended tax rate.
He said the 75 cents is more of a guideline under governing codes.
“It’s certainly not the tax rate that’s being indicated,” Marks said. “We’re estimating around seven cents.”
He said the petition was drafted based on what other hospital districts have done and feels that medical care in the county would benefit from the creation of a hospital district.
“[Hospital districts] set up a taxing district to fund health care,” Marks said. “Rural hospitals especially are having an extremely difficult time. It’s reached a point where financial support is needed.”
Lee said he understands that business may be slow for GRMC, but he wants to know how much business GRMC has lost.
“Give us some idea of the budget,” Lee said.
Lee also questioned the timing of the election, which the Commissioner’s set for January 24. Lee felt that the citizens should have been informed before now and the issue should have been on the ballot during the general election.
Marks did say the issue was discussed during a retreat in June or July, but the general election was just too close to get all the necessary steps completed and all the information in front of voters. But he added that pending Thursday’s meeting, the election timeframe might be extended again.
“Based on the fact that we’re revisiting the petition, the election may be extended beyond January,” Marks said.